By Richard Larsen
In spite of all the challenges and vicissitudes we’re facing domestically and globally this year, and the daunting challenges facing the country and our culture, there is much good that oftentimes escapes our notice. Sometimes as we review the year, both societally as well as personally, it can be a matter of perspective, whether we deem the glass half full, rather than half empty.
Reviewing the significant events of the year, it’s difficult to find the good, through the predominance of the bad. Bad news definitely grabs the headlines and the airtime, so the good news is mostly eclipsed or underreported since they don’t garner the attention-grabbing attributes of the bad.
As any student of history can aver, bad things always happen. There are always some catastrophes happening somewhere, always some acts of nature reminding us of our smallness compared to the powers of mother nature, and bad things happening to good people. And most of the time, there is little that can be done by us to prevent such events. But the weight of such pejoratives mustn’t weigh us down so much that we cannot see the good.
As a matter of fact, there is little any of us can do for issues and events vexing much of the world. But there is always something that we can do in our own homes, in our own neighborhoods, and our own communities.
Throughout the year much good has been done by commoners like us, which reminds us of our shared humanity and membership in the family of man. Not grandiose acts of unbounded magnanimity, but the little acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity to others. After all, not all of us can be as munificent as the Australian woman who left a $4.3 million estate to a charity that serves the homeless in her community.
But we can all do little acts that go a long way, like the Ogden, Utah hair stylist who organized a free haircut day at the local homeless shelter. The tears of joy and appreciation from the beneficiaries brought a sense of accomplishment and gratitude to those who gave of their talents and time to their fellowman in need.
We can “pay it forward,” the beneficent principle of repaying kindness shown to you, by blessing the lives of others, who in turn pay that kindness forward to others. Lily Hardy Hammond, in her book, “In the Garden of Delight,” coined the phrase, and explained, “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.” Imagine the delight and joy shared recently by all those involved in a “pay it forward” act that resulted in over 250 McDonalds customers in Lakeland, Florida paying for the car behind them. It all started with one person!
Pictures of a professor at the University of Louisville babysitting the children of one of his students went viral in social media. The student had a babysitter scheduled so she could take her test, but when those plans fell through, she had to take her four and five year old children to take the test with her. The professor entertained and cared for them in the hallway until their mother was through taking the test.
Several local young single adult LDS wards every year pitch their shekels together to help disadvantaged families have a semblance of a Christmas for their children. For these young people, mostly students, the sacrifice is great as they have little to spare themselves, yet they relish their opportunity to share of what little they have, to bring joy to others.
Literally volumes could be written of the little acts of kindness and thoughtfulness rendered just in the past few days alone. And hopefully each of us have our own stories of selflessness to contribute.
And as great as the temporal concerns may be to some amongst us, perhaps the greatest gifts we share are those that have no pecuniary cost, for their value far exceeds monetary numeration. The first of these is kindness, and genuine sensitivity to the concerns and needs of others. It doesn’t cost a dime, and exhibits an alluring selflessness and depth of character.
The former president of the LDS Church, Gordon B. Hinckley made a superb observation when he said, “Generally speaking, the most miserable people I know are those who are obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others…By and large, I have come to see that if we complain about life, it is because we are thinking only of ourselves.”
Author Joyce Meyer has said, “If selfishness is the key to being miserable, then selflessness must be the key to being happy.” An altruistic attitude makes it extremely difficult to be egocentric and preoccupied with our own inadequacies. Look to the welfare of others, in love, rather than focusing on our own life challenges. There is no cost in temporal terms to being thoughtful, sensitive, supportive, kind, courteous, and loving to our fellowman.
Another thing that we can each do to make a difference in our homes and communities is an investment of time. Time to visit loved ones, time to serve those who are incapable of serving themselves, time given to worthy causes, time with our children and grandchildren, and time to reflect on what we can do to lessen the load of others.
None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. If we all would do everything within our power to improve the lives of those within our respective spheres of influence, there is no limit to the good that could be done, the lives that could be touched, and the hearts that could be buoyed up.
The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the poignant “Serenity Prayer” nearly a century ago. It includes the petition, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Perhaps rather than obsessing over what we cannot change, we should focus more on what we can. And we can change our attitudes, our commitment to others through kindness, thoughtfulness, and love, as well as time dedicated in service. If we all did that, the impact could well be immeasurable, as we leave our little corner of mortality a little better than how we found it. Come to think of it, that sounds like a noble New Year’s resolution!
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